Acting on student feedback, the Yale College Council is calling on the Yale Corporation and Office of Financial Aid to reform the University’s financial aid policies.
The YCC presented its suggestions to the administration in a 25-page report on Jan. 9, after approving the recommendations in a Dec. 7 vote. Among the recommendations were greater clarity in financial aid award letters and a short-term freeze on the student effort portion of aid, which is made up of term-time student employment and a summertime savings contribution, called the student income contribution. Eventually, the YCC would like to see student effort completely eliminated, said YCC representative and report co-author Tyler Blackmon ’16, who is also a staff columnist for the News.
“The YCC chose to focus on financial aid this year because students are at a crisis point,” Blackmon said. “Despite Yale’s promises to meet 100 percent of demonstrated need, the incessant increases in the cost of a Yale education [are] forcing more and more students to take on student loans or take second, third or even fourth jobs just to survive.”
The recommendations were the product of months of work by the YCC Financial Aid Task Force, said YCC president Michael Herbert ’16. In order to gauge student opinion on the topic, the task force had distributed a student-wide survey and hosted a town hall with Director of Financial Aid Caesar Storlazzi.
Storlazzi declined to comment on the proposed changes.
According to the YCC report, students’ complaints with current financial aid procedures fell into three categories: clarity of information, student employment and student financial contributions. Students felt that the University did not provide enough information about outside scholarships and was not sufficiently clear about details of their award packages, such as the increased student effort expectation for upperclassmen. In addition, some students called the financial aid office’s terminology confusing, finding it difficult to distinguish between terms such as term-time contribution and student income contribution.
Students were also frustrated by the availability and execution of student employment opportunities, with 56 percent of survey participants claiming that long working hours negatively affected their college experiences. Among the YCC’s recommendations in this area were an increase in the campus minimum wage and a more streamlined job application process.
While students interviewed disagreed about whether or not full elimination of the student effort requirement is feasible, they agreed that being required to work several hours per week could detract from their ability to pursue academic and extracurricular interests.
“The idea is that [students] contribute something to their education, not that they contribute their lives to the point that it actually impedes on their education,” Michelle Kelrikh ’17 said.
Ivonne Gonzalez ’16, who founded the student group Undergraduate First Generation Low-Income Partnership, said the student effort requirement further accentuates class differences between students on campus.
Gonzalez added that while Yale markets itself as a place where all students have equal opportunity, the Office of Financial Aid simultaneously espouses a belief that requiring aid recipients to work makes them more invested in their educations — a philosophy that the YCC report also pointed out as troubling.
“Why don’t we expect that from all students, and not [just] students on aid?” Gonzalez said. “I’m grateful to be the recipient of Yale’s generous financial aid, but I hate it when more affluent people require that I be grateful.”
Finally, the report noted the 28.8 percent increase in the self-help requirement over the past years, from $2,600 in the 2009–10 academic year to its current $3,350. In addition to the YCC’s long-term recommendation that Yale fully eliminate the student effort contribution, it also proposed that the University develop a program that would guarantee low-income students a paid summer position.
Herbert acknowledged that University budgetary constraints might pose challenges in implementing the recommendations but said that they are not outside the realm of possibility. Given the improving economy and the University’s recent financial stability, Blackmon said, a freeze in the student effort contribution is a reasonable expectation.
“While we certainly don’t expect the University to take immediate action on all of our recommendations, we are optimistic that we can use this report as the basis for a meaningful conversation about the declining affordability of a Yale education,” Blackmon said.
In the 2014–15 school year, just over 50 percent of undergraduates received some form of financial aid.
A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to a 28.8 percent increase in the self-help requirement as a 22.4 percent increase in the student effort expectation. The student effort expectation — of which self-help is only a part — has risen by 26.7 percent.